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There’s No Pink Pill For This

We may be in the grip of a virulent form of mass business codependence.

04 March 2009

In psychology, when a person avoids responsibility for his or her life and problems by investing heavily in the problems of another person, it is called codependence. 

We may be in the grip of a virulent form of mass business codependence. 

The current economy provides an excellent mask for bad business decisions and a protective balm for bruised egos when a business falters. After all, “everyone’s suffering.” But just as the codependent individual must ultimately break the control of the dysfunctional person dominating his or her life, so must business owners turn away from the excuses offered by a recessionary economy and take control of their business. If they do not, they cannot hope to have a business worth running when the economy improves.

The problem with things that are bad for us is that they don’t feel bad all the time, and when they feel good, they feel really good. If a business owner finds she can’t get inventory from primary suppliers because she is behind on her trade payments, there’s a good chance the problem isn’t just attributable to the bad economy, though sales decline and lack of cash flow may be the straw that broke the camel’s back. But it feels good to blame the economy, because dealing with the roots of the problem may be overwhelming to both existing resources and her ego.

Blaming the economy might shield her from facing uncomfortable truths about her vendor management or protect her from accepting responsibility for undisciplined financial behavior. But it won’t solve her problem.

A sales manager who is suddenly falling short of department goals might be excused for blaming the economy. But if he has failed to train his department for success during difficult times; if he has not communicated customer mood, concerns, and desires to the marketing department so they could adjust marketing and advertising strategy; if he has been relying on his own sales ability to achieve department goals at the expense of building a robust team, his problems are not attributable to the economy – they are just exacerbated by it. 

A company that sat back and depended on existing customers to produce sales during good times – saving money on marketing in the process – can’t lay all blame on the economy when sales and average order values drop precipitously.

A company that maintained money-losing business activities due to unwarranted optimism or ego shouldn’t blame the economy when excess cash to waste evaporates and profitable parts of the business are deprived of essential resources.

A depressed economy takes existing conditions and magnifies them. It’s like stop-action photography. Bad business decisions that would normally unfold over years, instead unravel in a year, a quarter, or even a month. This is how we explain some organizations in every industry thriving while their competitors contract and fail.

Recessions, like extreme weather events, natural disasters, and national emergencies, create pockets in time when nobody gets much done. We stand gaping at the scene and we remain there as long as possible, for comfort and camaraderie as much as for information. But unlike those types of national shared experience, the consequences of the event taking place directly affect us all and will roll out over a much longer period.

We cannot afford to be immobilized any longer. We cannot be codependents of the recession, hiding from our business shortcomings and responsibilities by pointing to the big bad economy.

Nor can we afford knee-jerk reactions. The boiler plate response to a reduction in demand involves layoffs, reductions in hours, slashing of marketing budgets (along with a Hail Mary bet that social media and internet marketing will replace more expensive channels), sale pricing, and putting the kibosh on capital investments and travel spending. If a business is in dire enough straits these measures may be necessary to survive, but they are the equivalent of putting a patient into an induced coma – a coma that is just as likely to kill as the disease itself.

Let us turn our attention to running our businesses with precision, eliminating time and money wasters that were camouflaged during better days, reconsidering ill-advised management behaviors and policies that sub-optimize growth, and ensuring that our organizations – from strategy through operations – are a clockworks of coordinated purpose and activity.

A codependent's issues will not go away if their dysfunctional mate becomes well, and the cure for the economy is not the cure for your business. Use this time wisely to restructure, redirect, repair, and refocus, and you can avoid the lasting damage that will be visited upon businesses that are now gutting themselves with reactionary hara-kiri. You may even emerge from difficulty before the economy at large manages to do the same.

© 2009. Andrea M. Hill

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